Historic beatification held in Oklahoma

Blessed Stanley Rother — the Oklahoma missionary martyred in Guatemala in 1981 — was beatified in Oklahoma City on Sept. 23. With his beatification, the universal Church has recognized that Father Stanley Rother is now counted among heaven’s citizenry, and he may be venerated publicly in the places where he lived and died.

While the event marks the second beatification on American soil — the first being 2014’s beatification of New Jersey’s Blessed Miriam Teresa Demjanovich — Rother’s beatification is a first in two significant ways: It was the first beatification of a U.S.-born martyr and also of the first for a native-born American priest. Blessed Stanley’s beatification brings the number of American blesseds to three — soon to be four once Venerable Solanus Casey is beatified in Detroit on Nov. 18.

The beatification, hosted by the Archdiocese of Oklahoma City, was held in the see city’s Cox Convention Center, where attendance far exceeded expectations. The convention center reached its standing-room-only capacity of more than 14,000. And while close to 6,000 more were accommodated in designated overflow areas, the Oklahoma City Police Department reported that about 5,000 were turned away. Some of that number filled nearby hotel lobbies, where TVs broadcast the Mass and crowds of Catholics followed along reverently. Considering the latest figures report an 8 percent Catholic population in Oklahoma, this was no small detail.

The international gathering truly was representative of Catholicism’s global character. The principal celebrant and homilist at the Mass was Cardinal Angelo Amato, S.D.B., prefect for the Holy See’s Congregation for the Causes of Saints. The beatification Mass was attended by 52 bishops in total. Many bishops were from the United States. And in addition to Cardinal Amato, however, other episcopal dignitaries included former apostolic nuncio to Guatemala Archbishop Paul Gallagher, who now serves as secretary of the Holy See’s Secretariat of State, and Archbishop Peter Wells, an Oklahoma native who serves currently as apostolic nuncio to South Africa, Botswana, Lesotho, Namibia and Swaziland. A strong contingency of participants were present from Guatemala, led by many of that nation’s bishops. Filling in the floor seats were nearly 200 men and women religious, almost 200 deacons and nearly 300 priests.

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Blessed Stanley Rother’s two living siblings were in attendance at the beatification: Thomas Rother and his wife, Marti, and Sister Marita Rother, ASC. After the rite of beatification the family was greeted by Cardinal Amato. Sister Marita proclaimed the first reading, which was from the Old Testament book of Sirach. CNS photo by Steve Sisney, Archdiocese of Oklahoma City

The rite of beatification began with a formal petition read by Archbishop Paul S. Coakley. An official biography of Father Rother was then read by Oklahoma City’s Archbishop Emeritus Eusebius J. Beltran. The participation of Archbishop Beltran in the rite of beatification is notable because he not only knew Father Rother, but he also opened his cause of canonization in 2007.

In his homily, Cardinal Amato reminded the congregation of the historic nature of Blessed Stanley’s beatification. But more than that, now that he is beatified the Church holds up the witness of Blessed Stanley as a model for Christians to follow.

“Father Rother, aware of the imminent danger to his life, prepared himself for martyrdom, asking the Lord for the strength to face it without fear. He continued, however, to preach the Gospel of love and non-violence,” Cardinal Amato said. Planning to donate blood on the morning after his death, Father Rother’s blood was shed the night before instead. “His blood, united to that precious Blood of Jesus, purifies and redeems even his enemies, who are loved and also forgiven,” Cardinal Amato said.

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After Cardinal Amato proclaimed in Latin the apostolic letter of Pope Francis, by which Venerable Stanley Rother was proclaimed to be among the blessed, Archbishop Coakley read an English translation. A newly rendered image, up till then draped in red covering, was unfurled at that moment for the first time. The Archdiocese of Oklahoma City has printed the image on newly designed prayer cards for his cause of canonization, copies of which attendees received following the beatification Mass. Photo: Cardinal Amato delivers the homily during the beatification. CNS photo by Dave Crenshaw, Eastern Oklahoma Catholic

Blessed Stanley Rother’s two living siblings were in attendance at the beatification: Thomas Rother and his wife Marti, and Sister Marita Rother, A.S.C. After the rite of beatification the family was greeted by Cardinal Amato. Sister Marita proclaimed the first reading, which was from the Old Testament book of Sirach.

After Cardinal Amato proclaimed in Latin the apostolic letter of Pope Francis, by which Venerable Stanley Rother was proclaimed to be among the blessed, Archbishop Coakley read an English translation. A newly rendered image, up till then draped in red covering, was unfurled at that moment for the first time. The Archdiocese of Oklahoma City has printed the image on newly designed prayer cards for his cause of canonization, copies of which attendees received following the beatification Mass.

At the conclusion of Rother’s beatification Mass, Archbishop Coakley stated that the work of the archdiocese and the Church in America is not done as far as Blessed Stanley’s cause is concerned. Archbishop Coakley reminded those who attended and participated in the beatification via television, internet and radio that Rother’s beatification is the penultimate step ahead of his canonization. Since Blessed Stanley was beatified as a martyr, no miracle was necessary as is the case in other causes persuing beatification. Now, according to ordinary procedure, Blessed Stanley’s cause must await a miracle to be reported through his intercession before canonization may occur.

Michael R. Heinlein is editor of The Catholic Answer magazine. Follow him on Twitter @HeinleinMichael

Other American Blesseds

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Blessed Francis Xavier Seelos: German immigrant, Redemptorist priest, ministered to victims of yellow fever in New Orleans and died after contracting it himself. Beatified in 2000.

Blessed Miriam Teresa Demjanovich: New Jersey native and Sister of Charity, known as the “American Therese” for her simple and approachable spirituality. Beatified in 2014.

Up Next: Venerable Solanus Casey will be beatified November 18 in Detroit. The Capuchin Franciscan priest was a wonderworker and is remembered for his simplicity and closeness to the poor and marginalized.

Feast day announced

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The beatification Mass made use of the collect prayer which has been approved for use by the Holy See. This served as the opening prayer at the beatification Mass and is available for liturgical use on the designated memorial of Blessed Stanley, which will be July 28, the date he was martyred. His liturgical memorial remains localized to Oklahoma for now, however. But, as has been the case with some other blesseds, the U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops may request permission eventually to celebrate Blessed Stanley’s memorial throughout the entire country.

Mounties on-hand

The connection with Blessed Stanley’s seminary, Mount Saint Mary’s in Emmitsburg, Maryland, was very strong at the beatification. Not only were many members of the seminary community and faculty present for the event, but the seminary schola was also on hand to lend their voices to the liturgy.

Relic of Blessed Stanley presented

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Cardinal Angelo Amato, prefect of the Congregation for the Causes of Saints, swings a censer in front of a reliquary that holds a relic of Blessed Stanley Rother. CNS photo by Dave Crenshaw, Eastern Oklahoma Catholic

The rite of beatification concluded with the presentation of a first-class relic of Blessed Stanley — a portion of a rib bone, obtained during the recent exhumation of his body — which was presented to Cardinal Amato, who received and venerated it in the name of the Church on behalf of the pope. It was presented by Oklahoma City archdiocesan priest Father Thomas McSherry, who followed Father Rother at the Guatemalan mission of Santiago Atitlan. Blessed Stanley’s remains recently were transferred to the mausoleum chapel in Oklahoma City’s Resurrection Cemetery, adjacent to the archdiocesan pastoral center.The archdiocese has announced that a shrine dedicated to Blessed Stanley eventually will be built on the city’s south side.

Personal touches

The chalice used by Cardinal Amato during the liturgy of the Eucharist was the same chalice used by Blessed Stanly in 1963 at his first Mass — which he celebrated at Holy Trinity parish in Okarche, Oklahoma — the family’s home parish where Blessed Stanley was also baptized. The chalice contains a diamond from his mother’s wedding ring – a testament to the great significance of family life for Blessed Stanley.

Pope Francis honors Blessed Stanley

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CNS photo by Alessandro Bianchi, Reuters

In his regular Sunday Angelus message on Sept. 24, Pope Francis spoke about the beatification of Blessed Stanley Rother: “[Saturday], in Oklahoma City, the missionary priest, Stanley Francis Rother, killed in hatred of the faith for his work of evangelization and work to promote the human dignity of the poorest people in Guatemala, was proclaimed Blessed. May his heroic example help us to be courageous witnesses to the Gospel, committed to working in behalf of the dignity of man.”